Loraine studied David’s portfolio, pausing to frown over the photograph of the barn, white paint peeling from its tired sides. He watched her eyes for some sign.
“Your subjects are always something thrown away or given up on.” Her nails were red. Her hair, recently cut and styled.
“Abandoned.” He preferred the word abandoned.
“OK, abandoned. Why?”
He leaned back in the leather chair. “In ten years, these chairs will be worn out, likely sooner.”
She shrugged. “The agency will get replacements.”
“What will happen when you can’t get anything new?”
“That won’t happen. Not in my lifetime anyway. I’m sorry, but I don’t see how this relates to my ad campaign. Your photographs are beautiful…” She closed his portfolio, slid it across the glass table. “It’s not a good fit.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Did you know I used to work at Ford?”
“Up on Route 2? The one that closed last year?”
He nodded. “I spent my days installing seats.”
“Oh, God. How did you bear it?” She unscrewed the cap of her water bottle, brought it to her lips and drank noisily.
“With every seat I bolted in, I told myself I was one step closer to starting my own company.”
“And so now you’ve done it!”
“Not the way I wanted to. I figured I needed four years to get myself where I wanted to be before I quit. But then the plant shut down.”
She stole a glance at her watch. Movado. Probably cost more than a month of groceries.
“I lost everything. My house. My car. My pride.”
“I’m sorry. Perhaps you could bring in a different set of photographs.”
“For months, I’d sit in the factory parking lot, watching the weeds come up through the cracked asphalt; watching the kids throw bricks through the windows.”
“No. You don’t. Not really. Nobody sees things abandoned. We avert our eyes, pick up our pace, pretend there’s nothing wrong. We go about our lives chasing new things, setting what’s been abandoned in the back of our brains, dutifully taking it out and holding it to the light when we feel that prickling last vestige of conscience.”
She fiddled with the pearls strung about her neck. “So you’ve made it your mission to show the world what we’ve abandoned?”
“Yes.” He pushed the portfolio back across the table. “Look again. Tell me what you see.”
She opened it to the first photograph. “Train cars. Graffiti. Weeds.”
She turned the page. “A dumpster.”
“Trash. Bags and bags of trash.”
“You’re not looking hard enough. Yes, bags of trash. Trash full of carrot peels and dog crap. Paper towels and water bottles.” He glanced at her. “Stuffed animals and pills. Books and razors.”
Next picture. “Barefoot children, dressed in rags. Look, I’m trying to sell computers. How does this…?” She gestured to his portfolio.
“It shows what happens when we sell our souls.”
“Isn’t that what advertising is all about?”
“Each of these pictures is a reflection of personal choice. Yours. Mine.” He gestured out the windows to the city. “Theirs.” He shook his head. “You used to despise this. You used to say you’d never allow yourself to become rich.”
She frowns. “I’m sorry. I don’t…”
“You used to swear you’d work for the good of the world, so that nobody would have to go without food. A mother. A goddamn blanket.”
“Have we met before today?”
“St. Luke’s Orphanage.”
She blanched, covered her mouth with a hand. “Davie?”
He nodded. The two of them would sit up nights, well past their curfew, talking and scheming and making plans for their future. They’d have loads of kids and adopt every unwanted child from the orphanage. “We said we’d never abandon each other.”
“You never wrote. Never called.”
“I tried. When I left, I…” She dropped her eyes. “They told me I wasn’t to write to you. They wanted me to have no more contact with you.”
“And so you listened.”
“I thought they’d take me back to St. Luke’s if I didn’t.”
“You used to be such an idealist.”
“You’re not here for the job, I take it.”
“I’m here to show you what happens when you give up. On a person. On an idea. On a promise.” He stood.
“I never gave up on you, David. Never stopped thinking about you. Never married, despite several offers.” She smiled. “Let’s go to lunch and catch up.” She reached for her bag. Leather.
“No.” David stormed from Loraine’s office.
This time, he would abandon her.
* * *